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Exploring Material Parameters

1-3 hours
1-2 days

Group / Discussion / Artefact/Material driven



When considering materials in design and sustainability, often the material’s direct environmental impact is examined; the resources used for transforming a raw material into a fabric or finished garment. However, sometimes the necessary information is not available to perform a comprehensive lifecycle evaluation but other means can be used to explore materials use through a sustainability lens.

Based on relative scaling, this activity offers an alternative way to assess materials that trains students in, not necessarily knowing the correct answer (who really does?), but to identify, evaluate and discuss relevant aspects and parameters in the process.

How to describe material sustainability?

Links to Pillar(s)

Cultural - Economic - Environmental - Social



Ask the students to collect physical samples (~10cm x 10cm) of textiles made from different materials and by different production techniques. The samples do not have to come from new textiles but can come from textile scraps, leftovers as well as from discarded garments. 


In groups, select 5-10 samples from the individual collections for the further work. Ask the groups to define 5-10 parameters that they consider describes aspects of sustainability. This can for example relate to a product lifecycle such as water consumption and use of pesticides, or it can relate to product longevity such as durability or maintenance. It can also relate to aspects such as economy, experience and legislation amongst others. 


The groups can share their identified parameters in a joint repository. With basis on one parameter at a time, groups should physically arrange the material samples from extremes such as ‘less’-’more’, ‘little’-’very’. For some parameters, students can use literature and databases as guides, while for others, they need to find alternative assessment strategies. Ask students to photo document and upload the material charts.


In class, ask students to share insights regarding their identification of parameters and scaling exercise. Guiding questions can be: 

  • Which parameters were easy to assess through the scaling exercise? Which were not and why?

  • In which other ways could materials be examined?

  • What kinds of information would you like to have? What kinds of information do you think the industry would like to have? What kinds of information do you think the user would like to have? 

OPTIONAL: Based on the repository of parameters, ask students in groups or in class, to link and cluster these visually. This to investigate and unravel: 1. The kinds of parameters students identify and 2: How parameters are linked to and interact with each other.

This Activity Links To
  • A Repository of parameters for material sustainability.

  • Photo documentation of material charts.

Suggested Readings

Hasling, K.M, Ræbild, U., Patel, A. & Herrtua, I. 2020. “Material Pathways”. Design School Kolding 

Laitala, K., Klepp, I.G., & Beverly, H. 2018. “Does Use Matter? Comparison of Environmental Impacts of Clothing Based on Fiber Type”, Sustainability 10(7), 2524.

Ravnløkke, L. & Bang, A. L. 2016. “The body stocking: Design aesthetics and functionality as a means for sustainable fashion and textiles”. I Celebration & Contemplation, pp. 378–386. 10th International Conference on Design & Emotion, Amsterdam.

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